If I asked you to describe a female computer programmer, I'd expect you to use the words Amy, Farrah and Fowler in combination with wardrobe and jumble-sale. However, before we were subjected to the Kardashians (sextapes, arses, divorce and emotional vomit), Thursday night shennanigans at Sugar Hut, Pippa (arse, again) there was a woman who had proletariat's tongues wagging.
She was your full-on society gal who enjoyed a bevvy or two and a chap on each arm. She swore, she drank, had an affair with her teacher and she gambled getting herself into enormous debt. She cheated on her husband, disappointed her mother and had a motley crew of famous friends.
Also a mathematical and analytical genius, rather than allow the culmination of her short but sweet adult life to become her arse on the cover of a book, a perfume in a discount chemist or the wife of a footballer - she used her brains to design and build the first algorithm (programme) for Babbage's "analytical machine" - or what we would term a computer. Her name was Ada Lovelace and she was the 1850's answer to the TOWIE cast!
I've been in Amsterdam this weekend for the Kauffman's Foundation "Startup Weekend" extravaganza. Disappointingly from the 150 or so enthusiastic international and young (!) entrepreneurs present, only a handful were in fact female developers. Speaking to a VC also present, we applauded the enthusiasm and breaking free from the constraints that had shackled our generation - i.e., school, university, corporation - but lamented the lack of female engineers. When building startups to rival the big tech firms, female developers often have the upper hand because they are able to think as intuitive users rather than "code monkeys" and so our skills are in enormous demand - 'tis true, the Geeks have inherited the earth at long last!
As a student (Software Engineering - nice way to meet boys!), I spent my summers doing secretarial work. I still remember one woman telling me that it was terribly unfeminine to "know about computers". Nearly 20 years on I wonder how her adversion to electronics is working out for her!
We need to remove this illogical (ha! see what I did there?) fear that STEM careers are somehow unfeminine and a man's territory lest we send ourselves back to the 1950's ourselves! Cheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Marissa Mayer (Yahoo), Carly Fiorina (ex-HP), Meg Whitman (ex-eBay, current HP) are women who are leading the tech field and all of them I'm sure would raise a perfectly-shaped brow were you to question their femininity - especially Ms. Mayer who took her tenure at Yahoo when 5 months pregnant!
The future is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) - and once when hairdressing or nursing gave you a ticket to work anywhere in the world, you can now add STEM careers to this short valuable list. A cursory glance over your old schoolmates on LinkedIn will suggest that those furthest flung across the globe frequently originate from these areas.
Of the 20 or so pitches delivered to investors in Amsterdam, only 1 of these represented a physical product - all the remaining were tech based. If you can't code and you teach your kids that it's "not cool" and "not for girls" then you'll be doing them a huge disservice.
Tech is schools is at the moment not quite up to scratch, although government initiatives announced within the last week intend to address this problem, but until that comes to fruition there are alternatives. A fantastic new concept has come to UK shores in the form of www.firetechcamp.com - these week long summer camps delivered to children offer exciting opportunities to learn how to programme a robot or mobile app development for example. The best way to get kids in to tech is to start them young.
Christmas day '81 in our house is memorable for me. The freshly-unwrapped ZX81 (the first household computer and brainchild of Clive Sinclair - sadly these days known more for his sexcapades!) which my parents unveiled to much delight - and 5 minutes later when my sister spilled a glass of freshly-made cherryade over it from the new SodaStream. Nonetheless, I loved that little thing and being able to code and be handy with tech has allowed me enormous opportunities and kept my professional skills up-to-date and relevant in this fast-changing world.
Alexandra Sheach is CEO and founder of www.thebusinessofwomen.com - mentoring for female entrepreneurs looking for a fast launch and www.startupcheetah.com - business development and strategy for startups.